As the former creative director of DICE Sweden Ben Cousins knows console shooters. His team at Scattered (formerly Ngmoco Sweden) has collectively worked on five Battlefield games, the first three Halo titles, two Far Cry and Crysis games and the upcoming Tom Cruise film All You Need is Kill. If any development team can create a mobile first-person shooter that can appeal to hardcore console and mobile gamers alike, it's this one, and The Drowning is the game Cousins believes will get the job done.
"A lot of the 'core' gamers out there have smart devices, but a lot of the games don't really match their preferences," Cousins told me during a recent phone interview. It's a valid point. Only recently have mobile titles boasting console-quality graphics offered story depth and control options to match.
It's not just a problem getting those core gamers to play, either. Titles like Gameloft's Modern Combat 4 deliver a deep (if somewhat humorous) story and controls that do a fair job of emulating its console inspiration, but hand it to the sort of player that's used to simple fair like Angry Birds and they'd be completely lost.
"We want to introduce shooters to gamers that have never owned a console or PC."
The Drowning, a dark and moody post-apocalyptic shooter coming early next year to iOS, tackles the task by offering a rich and mysterious single player story in a game that can be controlled with one hand, two fingers.
Rather than fill the screen with virtual controls, The Drowning employs a control scheme Cousins likens to Chair's Infinity Blade. Without having played the game myself, it'll be interesting to see how this scheme handles the free movement I'm seeing in the announcement trailer.
The Drowning centres on an unexplained supernatural phenomenon that results in a large portion of the Earth's population being transformed into twisted creatures. The story is inspired by the works of Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and John Wyndham, British author of the classic post-apocalyptic novel "The Day of the Triffids". The haunting visuals draw inspiration from the Hudson River School art movement, known for instilling ordinary landscapes with a romantic sense of drama.
The player finds themselves battling twisted former humans in closed environments, tasked with chaining together violent moves and hitting weak spots in order to rack up points. "It's sort of like Tony Hawk Pro Skater," Cousins explained. The popular skateboarding game presented players with a closed level filled with goals and a set amount of time to achieve them. Sounds like a lovely model for a shooter.
The overall goal is to create enough carnage that the creatures flee, giving the player time to scavenge materials used to craft and upgrade the game's initial set of 50 weapons. Scavenging is done via a screen tapping mini-game, with materials delivered to a gunsmith for processing.
Which ties directly to The Drowning's 'freemium' nature. Nearly the entire game — an estimate 100 hours spent killing and upgrading every weapon — is completely free. Taking a cue from Rage of Bahamut, one of the top-grossing mobile games on the market, real money can be spent on additional scavenging time or better chances of finding rare components.
The Drowning is slated for release in the first few months of 2013 on iOS (with an Android version later) by DeNA, with regular story updates planned to help players piece together the mystery at the end of the world. From there, Cousins is keen to branch out from the game's Pacific Northwest setting, exploring how other parts of the world handled these cataclysmic events.
I'm keen to see how hardcore shooter fans and casual mobile gamers react to The Drowning.
"There are a billion smart devices in circulation," said Cousins. "That's a billion potential hardcore shooter players." Go get 'em, Ben.
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